There is something about Vicky McClure’s personality – she is chatty, confident and as eye-contacty as an owl – that makes you think she is taller than she is. In fact, she is 5ft 4in. She is also quite bendy, as becomes apparent when she sits down to talk in a comfy booth and folds her legs into what looks like the lotus position. No, she doesn’t do yoga, the 35-year-old actress says, but in her teens, she did want to be a dancer. She had her heart set on it and even had an audition for the Royal Ballet School. “Didn’t get in,” she says, a trace of Nottingham in her vowels. “Wasn’t much good at school either. My concentration was very low. I was bored. Left at 16 without any GCSEs.”

She did, however, win a place at the prestigious Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts in London, only to have to turn it down because there were no grants available and her parents – her father, Mick, is a joiner, her mother, Carol, a hairdresser who now works in an office – couldn’t afford the fees. She remained at the (free) Central Junior Television Workshop in Nottingham instead, where she had been going for five years and where she was coached by fellow Nottingham-born film and TV actress Samantha Morton.

If my success all ends tomorrow, I’d go out and get an office job

Then, aged 21, she landed a part in Shane Meadows’ acclaimed film This Is England. She played Lol, a single mother from a broken home, a role for which she won a Bafta when the film was turned into a TV miniseries. During the years she worked on it, off and on, she kept up her day job. “I didn’t have any private wealth to buy me time to move to London and hang around with the right people until some doors opened. I always had a job that wasn’t in acting, in Boots, Dorothy Perkins or whatever, to help me through the times when I didn’t have acting work.” One of her jobs was working in a surveyor’s office looking after the vending machines.

Nowadays TV viewers will know her best from Line of Duty, the BBC crime drama that has, like Bodyguard (also written and created by Jed Mercurio), become one of the BBC’s biggest ratings hits in years. The “overnight” figures for the first episode of the new series revealed a peak audience of eight million, the highest ratings this year.

McClure plays the unflappable DI Kate Fleming, who works for a police anti-corruption unit. The storylines, she says, are guarded closely. She won’t even tell her family. “But actually, a lot of people come up to me and say, ‘Oh please don’t tell me, it will ruin it. I want to enjoy it in real time.’” So all that she will say to me is, “Do I make it to season six? Who knows.”

I ask her what she thinks is behind this national obsession with police dramas. “With Line of Duty I think it’s that viewers enjoy having to do some of the detective work. In an interrogation scene, say, they are looking at the body language for clues. ‘Why did the suspect just scratch her ear?’ We’re all detectives now.”

Despite her success with the show, McClure is whatever the opposite of starry is. Her favourite thing, she says, is being lazy at the weekends. “On Line of Duty you have to be disciplined, no late nights, learn your lines. But at the weekend I can sit around doing bugger all. Lie in bed all morning, then a fry-up and telly. I love television.”

This summer she takes the lead role in I Am Nicola, a portrayal of a woman mentally abused by her controlling partner. It is one of three dramas for Channel 4 written and directed by Dominic Savage (the others have Samantha Morton in I Am Kirsty and Gemma Chan in I Am Hanna) centring on the actress in the lead I Am … role.

Working-class parents can’t say, ‘Here’s 60 quid,’ if their kid needs to go to an audition

McClure prefers not to embrace metropolitan showbiz life in London, living in her home town of Nottingham instead with her fiancé, Jonny Owen, a director and actor 12 years her senior. She grew up on an estate there, went to Fernwood School in the city and now, such is her celebrity, she has a tram named after her. “People know I live in Nottingham, so if they see me down the shops they are not surprised. But yes, I do get recognised.”

The place has also left her with a keen sense of what she calls her working-class identity. She thinks that actors from privileged backgrounds have an unfair advantage. When, in a bid to wind her up a bit, I suggest that Eddie Redmayne, Damian Lewis, Dominic West, Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch can’t help their backgrounds, that their privilege is not their fault and does not make them any less good as actors, it prompts the following passionate outpouring.

“Of course it’s not their fault, but I’m always going to be championing people who haven’t had that easier start, because I didn’t. I probably see the reality of life in this country differently to them. If you’re struggling, if you don’t have any money, it’s much harder than people think. I have friends who are millionaires. I have friends who are piss-poor. I know that at the end of the day you can’t help what you are born into, that it doesn’t make you less talented. Eddie Redmayne is an incredible actor and a lovely guy. But I just find it frustrating that if you haven’t got funds, you haven’t got the same opportunities. That’s what it comes down to.”

She draws breath and glances to the side before locking eyes once more. “If you are really talented, but don’t have the money, you won’t find your way through, whereas this other person who can act, who has money galore, can pay their way through it. All actors are fighting the same battles, but if you are born into money it is easier.”

Does she have any particular examples in mind? “I know too many talented people who have missed out on opportunities because train fares aren’t cheap. If you live in Manchester it could cost you 300 quid to get down to London for an audition. A casting can come up at very short notice. The next day. You don’t have months to save up your money or get a cheaper advanced ticket. Working-class parents can’t say, ‘Here is 60 quid,’ every time their kid needs to go up to London. Those are things you don’t have to think about if you come from a privileged background.”

All this makes her feel not so much politicised as disenfranchised. “The language of politics is predominantly posh and rich,” she says, “and I can’t see my people in it.”

Marriage? ‘No date yet, but we’re aiming for next year’

Not even when it is Comrade Corbyn doing the talking? “I don’t want to be drawn on my politics,” she says, with a firm nod and a brief pursing of her lips. “But I’m extremely passionate about the NHS. What are those who can’t afford private healthcare supposed to do? Just die? It makes me explode.”

Her equanimity soon returns when she talks about how, for some reason, she rarely if ever feels self-conscious in front of a camera. It probably helps that with her prominent cheekbones and expressive blue eyes, the camera seems to be her friend. “But I’m not a model; I’ll never be a model. It’s not something I would want to do, either. They ask you to get into these unnatural positions. Photographers will say things like, ‘Make your arms look soft.’” She demonstrates floppy arms, then shrugs and laughs.

She has just come from the photoshoot for this article. “I turned up this morning without a scrap of make-up on and the glam team came in and did my hair and make-up and dressed me in clothes I wouldn’t normally wear. But I suppose it is still me. Me with the help of a team of people.” She laughs again, a short bark. “Lighting is important. But to be honest, I’m just not bothered if people aren’t happy with the way I look. In This Is England I didn’t wear full-face make-up. Bit of eyeliner, that was all. Mother’s Day, I didn’t fill my eyebrows in. I plucked them to smithereens when I was a kid and they never grew back.”

It seems safe to conclude from this that she is comfortable in her skin. And she doesn’t seem to suffer, as some actors do, from the problems associated with not being able to switch a character off at the end of the acting day. But if, say, she has to tell someone on screen that she loves them, does that devalue the currency of saying it genuinely in her private life? “No, they don’t feel at all the same. On screen, I’m not thinking of Jonny, my fella, so that it comes out naturally. You pretend.”

There is a diamond engagement ring on her finger. “We haven’t set a date but we are aiming for next year. This year has been too chocka.”

Had she been in love before? “Yes, but it wasn’t the same – definitely not. Had a few relationships before I met Jonny, but there wasn’t that same Cupid’s-arrow moment as there was when I met him [on the set of the film Svengali, which he wrote]. He keeps me grounded. I feel like I have to set an example to his [grown-up] daughter. I don’t want to become known as being a bit of a dick.”

How has her success affected her other relationships, with her old school contemporaries, for example? “My old friends from Nottingham don’t treat me differently. Not a chance. Because I don’t live and breathe the industry. My best mate, Michelle, has just set up a business with my older sister, Jenny, making wax models. Another friend is working in energy and another one has become a nutritionist. None of my oldest and closest friends work in my business and they don’t want to hear about my work.”

I bet they do. “OK, yes,” she concedes with a laugh. “When I first started appearing in the papers or on chat shows it was a big deal, but now everyone is relaxed about it.”

What about when Madonna cast her in her directorial debut, Filth and Wisdom, in 2008? The laugh again. “Yes, they wanted to know about that. I went to Madonna’s house and saw her with her children. And she flew me out on a private jet for a screening. To me it felt like a normal relationship between a director and an actor. I wasn’t watching out for, ‘Ooh, what’s Madonna doing now?’ I don’t remember feeling uneasy. Everyone is going to have good days and bad days, even Madonna.”

McClure admits to a lack of patience and a tendency to grind her teeth, but otherwise gives the impression of having a sunny disposition, so much so that it seems hard to imagine her having bad days. “Of course I have them. We all get down and have days when we feel like shit and just want to pull the duvet over our head and sign off for the day. I do sometimes suffer from anxiety – I’m a bit of a worrier, mainly about my friends, the people I love – but I’ve never had therapy.”

When I ask how she would describe herself, she says she thinks she has a pretty high level of emotional intelligence. “I can read people well. And I like to be in control. Like to be organised. I’m quite nosy.”

As anyone who saw her appearance on Top Gear will know, she also swears a lot. “Yes, I’ve got a right potty mouth, but I wouldn’t dream of swearing in front of my grandparents, even now.”

She’s also a bit of a cyberchondriac. “I’m always googling illnesses. Guilty of it.” I ask if, odd moments of health-related paranoia apart, she is, at this stage of her career, allowing herself to enjoy her success. “I think so. I’m not worried about it suddenly stopping because I don’t think that would bother me, because I’ve had so much rejection in the past and that’s the nature of the acting beast. As much as I love my job, if it all ends tomorrow, that’s not my life over. It’s not. It’s really not. I’d go out and get an office job.”

She hopes that if she has children in due course she can be the same way with them as her parents were with her. “Mine weren’t ‘you must live your dream’ parents, but they did think that if you find something you enjoy, you should keep going with it. I remember when I came back from school with the form for the Television Workshop, aged 11, my mum said, ‘Yeah, if you want to do it, Vicky, do it.’ I was dancing every night at the time – tap, modern, ballet – a gruelling schedule for my parents, making sure I had my ballet shoes and my hair in a bun. My sister and I were different. She never wanted to get into showbiz.” She does jazz hands as she adds, “I was the ‘watch me’ daughter.”

She says she and her sister, who is two years older than her, have never talked about how she seemed to need (and get) more of their parents’ attention. But they are close and have always been supportive of one another.

When I ask if she ever considered auditioning for one of those ubiquitous talent shows, she shakes her head. “Talent shows give people false hope and don’t prepare them for the rejection that is part of an actor’s life,” she says. “Contestants always say, ‘It’s my dream. It means the world to me and my life will be meaningless if I don’t win.’ I get that passion, but it’s not true that if you follow your dream you will get there, because there is not enough room on the telly, on stage and in film for everyone, and it’s not fair to let people think there is.”

This said, she is always willing to offer advice when aspiring actors ask her for it. One question that crops up is how an actor manages to cry on cue. She finds it helps to listen to music beforehand, the Carpenters being a sentimental favourite. “I play certain trigger music. Something powerful. An instant hit of emotion. If the director tries to rush the scene or they want take after take I sometimes say, ‘I’m not a robot.’ I’m not going to use a tear stick. It needs to be real and everyone needs to give me the time to get there. I’m not going to do it ten times in a row because then it gets away from the reality of whatever that scene is. For the rape scene in This Is England it was a closed set. It was sensitively handled.”

Her understanding of the power of music was heightened by her experience of watching her grandmother’s decline from dementia. “She wasn’t herself and she lost her ability to communicate, but if we sang songs there would be a smile.”

Her grandmother’s death had a big impact on her and was the reason she became involved with a choir made up of patients with dementia in Nottingham. She has made a documentary about it which is due to be screened next month.

“You just see these 20 people all singing in harmony, different ages and sexes,” she says. “At times, I couldn’t keep a lid on my emotions when I was with them. Dementia affects the protein in a certain part of your brain. And as your brain shuts down, this affects your body, your balance and so on. I’ve learned so much about it. There are different types, with vascular and Alzheimer’s being the most common. It is an epidemic and people assume it is always old people who are affected by it, but that’s not true. The youngest member of my dementia choir is Daniel, who is 31. His was genetic. He had a faulty gene.”

Since making the documentary a few months ago she has kept in touch with the choir. “I saw them all last week. They live locally in Nottingham. I went to one of their weddings. Dementia is tough. There is no cure. And it’s a difficult show to promote, if you know what I mean. Our Dementia Choir with Vicky McClure is not a glamorous title.” She laughs again, an explosive “ha!” “Still, hopefully we will get Bodyguard figures.”

We have been talking for more than an hour, long enough for me to have forgotten about our respective heights (I’m 6ft 2in). When we get to our feet she registers my expression of surprise about this and says with a laugh, “People always think I’m taller than I am. Ha!”



James Blunt

It could be the homes around the world; his military bearing; or that he’s our biggest musical export since Elton. For whatever reason, being called annoying, a philanderer or – worse – middle class doesn’t exactly keep James Hillier Blount awake at night. Nigel Farndale met him

It’s not the sight of the groupies that haunts me, but the sound, or rather the absence of sound, as they ghost past us on their way up the stairs to the dressing-room. It takes me a moment to figure out that the reason they aren’t talking to each other is that they don’t know each other. One of the band members, the keyboard player, I think, has picked them from the audience on the basis of their looks. Half-a-dozen of them, all in their late teens and early twenties, and all, surprisingly, in pretty frocks, as if they were going to a Sunday school meeting. They have been separated from their friends like lambs weaned from their mothers. The silence of the lambs.

The ‘us’ they are filing past is James Blunt and me. He has a bottle of beer in one hand, a cigarette in the other, and not a hair in place – tousled just so, like a Renaissance painting of John the Baptist – but they don’t realise it’s him because he has changed out of the suit he was wearing on stage and is now in jeans, T-shirt and leather jacket, as well as a pink feather boa and star-shaped novelty sunglasses. But I’m getting ahead of myself. This is the end of the day; we need to go back to the start, well, to the middle, when the seats are empty and the Texan sun is at its most unforgiving.

A barefoot and unshaven Blunt is wearing normal sunglasses and shorts as he plays his piano, strums his guitar and sings his plaintive songs into the microphone for the sound check, all the while looking out with his soulful eyes over an empty, open-air arena in Houston. At 5ft 7in, he’s not a tall man, but he has presence and an unaffected manner – a certain maturity, too, one that you wouldn’t normally associate with a pop star in the ascendant.

But then he is 34 and this is his second career, his first being as an officer in the Household Cavalry. He joined after graduating from Bristol University with a degree in sociology. He became a champion skier for the Army and not only saw active service in Kosovo, but also guarded the Queen Mother’s coffin when she was lying in state.

Tonight he will be supporting Sheryl Crow, though, since his second album ‘All the Lost Souls’ and the single from it, ‘1973’, went straight to number one in America, he is arguably the bigger act these days. Indeed, not since Elton John has there been a more successful British singer-songwriter in the States.

His first album, ‘Back to Bedlam’, also went to number one over here, as it did in 18 other countries, making it the biggest-selling album of the millennium. It even entered the Guinness Book of Records as the fastest-selling album in one year. But it was his first single that really put him on the map. You’re Beautiful became the sound of that summer. It was everywhere, and still is – having become a favourite at weddings, funerals and bar mitzvahs. I even heard a brass band playing it at an agricultural show in the Yorkshire Dales this summer.

As well as millions of sales, James Blunt has won Brit awards, Ivor Novello awards, MTV awards and various Grammy nominations. In terms of credibility, he’s headlined at Glastonbury and won the respect of the world-weary music press. Yet not everyone loves him, as he points out when we get something to eat in the canteen area back stage.

‘After Back to Bedlam really started selling,’ he says, ‘there was this sudden aggression towards me in the UK, for whatever reason, and that focused my mind, made it clear to me what I was doing and why I wanted to do it. I write songs for myself. I don’t write them for you, or for anyone else, I write them because I have experiences that I need to process. I don’t have the answers all the time, but I do have lots of questions, and I express them in the songs I write.’

He is, I think, alluding to a poll last year of ‘the most annoying things in life’, which put him at number four, just behind cold-callers and queue-jumpers. ‘I haven’t met anyone who voted in the poll, have you?’ he says when I mention this. ‘That poll probably came from a website that was after some publicity. You and I could do the same poll very quickly right now and it would count as a poll. We could do one about annoying newspapers, for example. I promise the Sunday Telegraph wouldn’t be in my list. My parents take it.’

His father, a retired colonel in the Army Air Corps, manages his son’s finances. His mother arranged the purchase of his six-bedroom villa in Ibiza (he also has a chalet in Verbier and recently bought a place in Chelsea). ‘I’m not married,’ he says, ‘and so the support structure in my life is my parents. I’m closer to them now than I have ever been.’

He certainly isn’t married, as the photographs of him emerging from nightclubs with various high-profile women on his arm attest. Tara Palmer-Tomkinson was probably the best known socialite, Jessica Sutta, of the Pussycat Dolls, the most glamorous. He also seems to be photographed regularly cavorting on beaches with bikini-clad models such as Petra Nemcova, whom he dated and then dumped – unceremonious dumping being his way of ending relationships, according to the tabloids. He once said he found himself in a swimming pool in LA with nine naked women. ‘I was the only bloke. It was the only time I wished my mates were there, purely to spectate. I had arrived. It was a moment.’

Now he says of the tabloid interest in his peripatetic love life: ‘Last week I went to my home in Ibiza and was photographed by the paparazzi in my swimming trunks with girls. What is the point of that? I’m not that bothered, but maybe the media should be concentrating more on global warming or the Russian invasion of Georgia.

‘Looking at me in my swimming trunks is not a great sight. It’s a waste of time. There generally is a long lens pointing at me wherever I go, these days. I’m comfortable with it. I appreciate how things work. But my record label said something about my always being photographed coming out of nightclubs and I thought, “But this is what I do. I was doing it before the second album came out, so what is different now? You didn’t tell me to stop then.” I’m not going to change my life because of these people. I don’t see why I should.’

His label also gets him to dye his grey hairs and be enigmatic about his love life, which is an old tactic dating back to the Beatles – they had to pretend they didn’t have wives and girlfriends so that fans could fantasise they were in with a chance.

Actually, at the time of going to press, Blunt seems to be going out again with one of his old flames, Verity Evetts, an Oxford-educated barrister. He has also stayed friendly with some of his other exes, the socialites at least. He told one – an ex who got married not long ago – that he doesn’t feel ‘centred’ at the moment and would like to get married as well. Then again, he also said that he never tires of singing You’re Beautiful night after night because it gets him laid night after night.

Either way, he tells me he has grown used to the idea that his mother will probably find out from the papers what he has been up to, and with whom, before he has had a chance to tell her. ‘And my [two] sisters are quick to email me about things in the papers, laughing their heads off. I get healthy, ritual abuse from them, and give it back myself.’

As we are talking, I can’t decide whether the way Blunt smiles all the time is disarming or disturbing. He’s like a victim of a religious cult, smiling at the beginning of the sentence and at the end. I guess he has a lot to smile about, but also I sense a great deal of insecurity to disguise.

Then, I’m distracted by the sight of Sheryl Crow playing table tennis across the room. She has been holding her adopted son in one arm as she bats with the other, and now, even more distractingly, she is heading straight for us. ‘Are we going to have one of our little conversations on stage again tonight, James?’ she says. ‘That flirting thing. I think it worked well last night.’

They discuss the duet they will sing – a cover of Cat Stevens’s The First Cut is the Deepest – then we both watch her shimmy away, her blonde curls bobbing. ‘She’s very down to earth,’ he says. ‘I’d met her a couple of times, which was why she asked me on this tour. We do end up playing a lot of table tennis on the road. We’ve done 117 shows so far this year, in 117 cities, and there are a lot of hours to fill in the day.’

As he sleeps on his tour bus with his band, one city tends to blur into another. When I joke that he is in Cincinnati now, he looks genuinely confused. ‘No, this is?… Oh, right. Actually, I always get the tour manager to say where we are just as I’m going on stage. I still managed to get it wrong the other night, saying “Hello Dallas” when I meant Austin. I’m surprised I got out alive.’

He is funny on the subjects of things that go wrong. ‘People are normally surprised by my show, which is more energetic than you might think. Jumping on the piano. Jumping out into the audience and running up and down the aisle high-fiving them. But going off the stage can be quite dangerous. I broke my finger once. My legs carried on when I jumped off, and I smacked down on the ground. The spotlight was on me, and when I got back to the piano I hit the wrong note and thought, “Why did I do that?” And I looked down and saw it was because my finger was broken, sticking out an angle. Look,’ he says holding it up. ‘It’s still crooked.’

On another occasion, in Chicago, he jumped 8ft off the stage. ‘When I began running to the audience, a security guard stuck his arm out and I thought, “Does he want a hug?” Then next thing I know he’s rugby-tackled me. He wouldn’t release me and I was screaming in his ear, “I’m the f—ing singer.” I had to wait for the other guards to pull him off.’

I would have thought Blunt’s training in unarmed combat would have helped. I presume he still works out. ‘No, never. Couldn’t handle it. Too boring. I am a hyperactive person though.’ He likes an adrenaline rush, as well, having recently bought an 1100cc Moto Guzzi V11 Sport motorbike. There’s also the skiing, which he still does, and the riding. Actually, he tells me, he never really liked horses before joining the Life Guards. So why did he join that particular regiment?

‘Well, it is a reconnaissance regiment.’ But they are all so tall in the Life Guards, did that not make him self-conscious? ‘Some are. The Foot Guards tend to be taller regiments, though. The Life Guards take a few shrimps, as well. Besides, they are on horses, so height isn’t so important. Also being in that regiment had the benefit of being in Knightsbridge. I got a chance to be in London and meet people in the music scene.’ And groupies, as it happens.

As he paraded up and down the Mall in plumed helmet and shiny breastplate, girls would stick their phone numbers down his knee-length boots. But it was his time in Kosovo that really made girls swoon. He used to strap his guitar to the outside of his tank, because there wasn’t room for it inside. He had learnt to play the violin at five, the piano at seven and the guitar at 14, while a pupil at Harrow.

He writes his songs on piano and guitar. ‘But mainly guitar because it is easier to carry around. It’s like a child messing around with a toy. If a tune comes to me I don’t record it instantly. I think if I remember it, then it must be worth remembering, and if I forget it, then it was forgettable.’

Does he have any anxiety dreams about forgetting lines or chords? ‘Not yet. Perhaps I will tonight. Perhaps you’ve jinxed me. But audiences aren’t judgmental, and if things go wrong and you can look them in the eye, that is fine. The only people who are judgmental are the journalists. I will be conscious of you being there in the audience judging me.’

Blimey. Sorry about that. Is it true he signs breasts? ‘Not that I remember. Not that I’m fussy what I sign. A lot of men started coming to the shows after I appeared on Top Gear last year. That was such fun. I spun the car five times. I thought I might as well make the most of it. I am competitive.’

He recorded one of the fastest laps, but I’m surprised blokes didn’t think him manly before that, given his tour of duty in Kosovo. ‘It’s because I sing songs that are heart-on-your-sleeve and therefore I must be overly emotional. Nothing I can do about it. I could pose more, but I am comfortable with my masculinity.’

He has said that his lyrics are autobiographical, in which case, are we to assume that the lyric on his new album, ‘I killed a man in a far away land’, means he killed a man in a far away land? I only ask because in the past he has said that he would never try to exploit what he went through, what he saw. ‘You should ask any soldier how many lives he has saved. How they do it is no one else’s business. What I took from my experience in Kosovo is that you are told from one day to the next who your enemy is and it keeps changing. That’s what is happening in Iraq, too. I believe in looking people in the eye, looking for the common humanity.’

He is a great believer in looking people in the eye. He will use the phrase again later and it seems to reveal a Christ complex, or a John the Baptist one. That direct and challenging stare of his. It would also explain the hair.

It is time for him do some photographs before he goes on stage and, endearingly, he says he is ‘not fussed’ about the grooming he is offered before they are taken.

On stage his features contort with passion when he sings. The big video screen goes in tight on his face. His voice is by turns soft and tremulous and forceful, but always high. Having seen him in concert once before, a couple of years ago, I notice the tone of his banter has changed.

‘Wow it’s hot tonight,’ he says now. ‘I’m surprised any of you are wearing any clothes. We could all take them off and get friendly.’ It is suggestive, designed to get the teenage girls in the audience screaming. Before he used to joke about his ‘girlie voice’ and taking helium to get it that way, and being ‘a bit wet’ and the ‘housewives’ favourite’. I think now he has realised that, actually, he is a proper musician, a popular one, too, and that he doesn’t need to apologise for it.

Afterwards, back in the dressing-room, he strips to the waist as he talks because he wants to take a shower before going back on to do his duet with Sheryl Crow. ‘Things got a bit hairy out there when I jumped into the crowd,’ he says. ‘Did you see that? Some thought it was some kind of sport to grab me.’

I watch his duet from the side of the stage and notice he whispers something in Sheryl Crow’s ear and then she starts running her hands over his trousers suggestively, patting them. Afterwards, I ask what he said. ‘”Is now a good time to ask for your phone number?” She was checking my pockets, pretending to look for a pen.’

He shows me round the gold-coloured tour bus where he will be sleeping tonight as they drive to their next gig in Dallas. It is full of hi-tech equipment and is nicely air-conditioned but there isn’t much space in the bunks. ‘We do live in close proximity,’ he says. ‘Some of us stay up late. This is the crew end, they have to get up early.’

Where do the groupies go? ‘Never have groupies on here. Never. They’d only get in if we invited them in. But we’d only ever invite friends in.’

Does he sleep OK? I heard he has to take sleeping pills. ‘It is a bit of a rough sleep, but better than a hotel and taking planes all the time because you have to get to the airport two hours early, which is miserable. Then your flight gets delayed.’

He is drinking champagne from a plastic cup. ‘This is for your benefit,’ he says. ‘The tour management went out and bought a bottle of champagne because he thought I should be seen drinking it. Better for my image. Isn’t that sweet? Normally, we drink vodka and beer. In fact, I think I’d rather have a beer, now. Want one?’ He opens a well-stocked fridge then takes me to the back of the bus where there is some seating space. He has one small case which he pulls out from a cupboard. It continues a few pairs of socks, T-shirts and a spare pair of jeans. No photographs or mementos. ‘This is all I have for 14 months on the road,’ he says. ‘I’m not known for style.’

Does he know how much he is worth? ‘No I don’t, not very interested in it to be honest. I travel with hand luggage only. That is why I always seem to be wearing the same clothes in photographs. If a tabloid says my clothes aren’t fashionable or my hair looks stupid, I really don’t worry about it. Don’t have any hair gel.’

In London, he takes the Tube or the bus. He prefers pubs to restaurants. When he goes to Ibiza, he flies easyJet. Still, that’s at home. Presumably on the road he can afford to be more self-indulgent.

Another lyric that we can only assume is autobiographical is ‘I’ve taken a s—load of drugs’. It is. Though his only comment on the subject is that he has ‘a comfortable relationship with drugs’. His relationship with fame is less comfortable. Oscar Wilde said there were two forms of tragedy: not getting what you want, and getting it. Is that how it felt for him when he went to number one? ‘Actually, I don’t think I had been dreaming about it. Certainly, I hadn’t anticipated being so recognisable so quickly.

‘I do remember getting a phone call from the record company, who said both the single and the album have gone to number one, and thinking, “S—, this is not what I expected.” I hadn’t prepared myself for it. Number two is great. Number two is nice. I sensed then it would mean having to change from being a musician to being a celebrity and that that would be a change for the worse. Fame doesn’t affect me, but it does affect everyone else around me. As for celebrity, it is the worst invention of the modern world. Gossip columns treat your life as if it were a cartoon. Relationships reduced to cartoons.’

Although there are other public-school bands around at the moment – Radiohead, Coldplay – Blunt seems to have suffered more than most from a perception that he is too posh to be credible. His family name is Blount (and his middle name Hillier), but he changed it to Blunt to sound, well, blunter and more proletarian.

When he tells me he would nevertheless still send a son of his to Harrow – ‘I think I would. I think I would. Public schools make individuals rather than sheep’ – I ask what he makes of the mood change now that the old Etonian David Cameron has made it OK to be posh. ‘Is it? I must come back to Britain immediately. Is it really safe to come back?

‘It’s not a dirty word to be posh, people come up to me and no one gives a damn if I’m posh. It’s about having a normal conversation and looking people in the eye.’

We head back to the dressing-room where he puts on his feather boa and novelty sunglasses then we wander back downstairs to have a word with Sheryl Crow, who is signing autographs. This is the moment at which the keyboard player says: ‘This way to the good-time room girls’ and the silent groupies dutifully appear.